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  Updated: December 17, 2010

Ashura ceremonies on peak in Karbala

By: Ismail Zabeeh

HOLY CITY OF KARBALA, Iraq: Heart-rending voices of ‘Wa Husseina’ are coming from every nook and corner of the black-draped holy city of Karbala where millions of Husseini mourners have reached to commemorate Ashura that touches its climax on Friday December 17.

Mourning processions attended by black-dressed mourners were marching through the holy city.

Vehicle traffic in Karbala came to a virtual standstill as pilgrims were made to walk to the shrines of the revered Imams Hussein and Abbas, while all visitors were searched at checkpoints.

"We were able to destroy 14 terrorist cells and arrest 73 people, including 37 wanted persons," Karbala provincial council chief Mohammed al-Mussawi told AFP.

"We seized lots of weapons, IEDs (improvised explosive devices), explosives belts and equipment.

Karbala police spokesman Major Alaa Abbas said tight security arrangements would remain in force until the pilgrims had headed home after the ceremonies.

Around 28,000 soldiers and police are currently securing Karbala, with another 7,000 available if needed.

"Everything right now inside Karbala is good," said 40-year-old Kadhim Hussein, a pilgrim from the southern port city of Basra. "We will continue our commemorations of Hussein's martyrdom despite all the threats from enemies."

Black flags, representing the sorrow of Husseini mourners during the rituals, were visible across the city alongside pictures of Imams Hussein and Abbas, both of whom are buried in Karbala.

Ceremonies begin with devotees drenched in blood after ritually slicing their scalps, symbolically showing their grief.


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